DNA repeat expansion underlies dozens of progressive neurodegenerative disorders. While the mechanisms driving repeat expansion are not fully understood, increasing evidence suggests a central role for DNA mismatch repair. The mismatch repair recognition complex MutSβ (MSH2-MSH3) that binds mismatched bases and/or insertion/deletion loops has previously been implicated in GAA•TTC, CAG•CTG and CGG•CCG repeat expansion, suggesting a shared mechanism. MutSβ has been studied in a number of models, but the contribution of subsequent steps mediated by the MutL endonuclease in this pathway is less clear. Here we show that MutLγ (MLH1-MLH3) is the MutL complex responsible for GAA•TTC repeat expansion. Lentiviral expression of shRNA targeting MutL nuclease components MLH1, PMS2, and MLH3 revealed that reduced expression of MLH1 or MLH3 reduced the repeat expansion rate in a human Friedreich ataxia cell model, while targeting PMS2 did not. Using splice-switching oligonucleotides we show that MLH3 isoform 1 is active in GAA•TTC repeat expansion while the nuclease-deficient MLH3 isoform 2 is not. MLH3 isoform switching slowed repeat expansion in both model cells and FRDA patient fibroblasts. Our work indicates a specific and active role for MutLγ in the expansion process and reveals plausible targets for disease-modifying therapies.
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